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2021 seems to have brought up a debate about directors and studios, and the quandary about how they go from grand-scale philosophical struggles about life and being human, and then go to making an experience that’s smaller in scale. That’s not really fair to expect directors or studios to keep one-upping their latest projects. The animation industry is already a really taxing career even if it can be fun and produce amazing films and shows. It does seem a touch silly to say a film is a downgrade from the last one because it’s a different type of story. As long as the film is good and the context of the production is relevant, it shouldn’t matter what came before or after a certain film release. Plus, when you are a director like Ayumu Watanabe, who has a ton of great work behind him, it should be no surprise that his newest film, Fortune Favors Nikuko, is quite good.
Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, the story follows a young girl named Kikuko, voiced by Cocomi. She lives with her mom, a woman of size and full of positive energy and spirit named Nikuko, voiced by Shinobu Otoke. They go about their lives in a small town while living in a boat house by the shore and grill where NIkuko works. There has always been this tension between Kikuko and Nikuko, but Kikuko hasn’t really been able to figure it out. Will she be able to find happiness with her life in the town and with her mother?
So, this sounds like another slice-of-life film that focuses on small vignettes rather than having an actual three or five act structure. Normally that would make a plot feel aimless, but there is a throughline with the small story beats shown throughout the film. If you had to find an arc that keeps the experience together, it’s Kikuko’s journey of who she is, and what she is looking for in life and her relationship with her mother. It’s a story that focuses on themes of family and connection. The film delves into the connections between our leads with the other townsfolk and teenagers. It’s a very laid back movie, as it’s more focused on the smaller character moments and the comedy sprinkled throughout the film. While there are some unfortunate fat jokes at the beginning of the film due to how they make a point to focus on Nikuko’s weight, they back down from them and what is nice is that Nikuko is a fantastic character. While life has been rough for her, she has an extremely upbeat vibe and is probably the most expressive and the speediest individual in the entire town. Everyone loves her, and she’s a real bright spot to many of the people in town. It’s a film that takes its time with its story and the way it builds its bonds with the characters.
Animation-wise, this is Ayumu Watanabe and Studio 4C, so the animation is topnotch. They take the same approach with Children of the Sea with lucious backgrounds, color usage, and smooth movements. The character designs come from Kenichi Konishi who did character designs for Tokyo Godfathers, Tale of Princess Kaguya, My Neighbors The Yamadas, and Bokurano. The music was composed by Takatsugu Muramatsu who also composed the music for Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over the Wall. The acting is great with Cocomi, Shinobu Otake, HIro Shimono, Ikuji Nakamura, Izumi Ishii, Matsuko Deluxe, Natsuki Hanae, and Riho Yoshioka.
The one downside to this film is that, like most episodic stories, the third act conflict comes up fairly abruptly. Yes, it’s a way for the story to wrap up, but it always seems like the tone suddenly changes and then everything is in trouble at this point. It works some of the time, but you can always tell when a film is about to start wrapping itself up. It’s a shame, because the rest of the third act is so delightful and heartwarming with a real emotional gut punch at the end that really solidifies the film’s theme of motherhood and family.
It’s a surprise that this film hasn’t been picked up by anyone, which is impressive, because Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko should have some fortune for it. GKIDS will probably pick this film up for a 2022 release, and when you can find a theater to play it or when it hits on demand, give it a watch. Animation is a beautiful medium of storytelling, because you can tell any kind of story, and space it however you want. If we limit how stories and arcs are told, then we are only limiting the art of filmmaking. For now, we shall move on to another Japanese film that was at Animation is Film that Elevenarts is releasing with Poupelle of Chimney Town.
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